After four children I can honestly say that one of the things I was not prepared for was how little sleep I would get as a parent. I mean, don’t get me wrong, at no point did I ever think it would be easy being a parent, not in the slightest.
My dad would frequently remind me when I was growing up that I didn’t sleep a night through until I was three years old. I was a nightmare sleeper. Always on the go, sleep was boring, I just wasn’t interested. When I began sleeping through, I always woke up early. I was just never someone who needed much sleep.
Perhaps I should have got in a bit more sleep back then so I wasn’t so tired now!! Or, perhaps the reason I’ve managed on so little sleep since having children is because I never needed a lot back then!
So what do you do when your baby just won’t sleep? I’m no expert, I can only tell you what has helped me get through those years. My youngest child didn’t sleep through the night until he was six. My feeling is that the school day is primarily responsible for this change. During lockdown this regressed and he has only started sleeping through again now he has been back at school a few weeks.
Sleep deprivation is brutal, no doubt about it, but you can make it through.
Do what works for you
You will be told so many things about what is the ‘right’ thing to do and how your baby should fall asleep. Whilst that might work for Marcie around the corner and her baby, it doesn’t mean it will work for you.
My dad used to put me in the car seat and drive me around until I fell asleep and then transfer me into my cot. When I tried that with my children, the three oldest would fall asleep but then wake up once back in their own cots. My youngest wouldn’t even fall asleep in the car, he hated it and would just scream until I got him out.
You will be told not to let your baby fall asleep on your boob or on a bottle, but if that’s what it takes to get them to sleep, who cares what Auntie Sharon thinks?
You may even be told not to cuddle your baby to sleep, that they MUST learn to fall asleep on their own. This ‘advice’ will come from people who aren’t sleep deprived and whose babies sleep through the night from two weeks old and have mammoth day-time naps too – these people are not your friends!
Take the time to figure out what soothes your baby. One of my children would only fall asleep in the baby carrier against my chest. I could do all sorts with him in there and he would sleep soundly, but he hated not being that close. Another of my children liked to be bounced to sleep – they are all so different.
Keep them close
when babies won’t sleep you need to make life as easy as possible for yourself. Do yourself a favour and keep them close. Don’t worry about what other people tell you about when they should be in their own room – you are just trying to survive at this point.
You can try a moses basket next to you, or one of those cribs with the side that folds down that you can put next to your bed, or when they are older you could try a Clara cot bed in your room. For some babies, just being close to you can give them the reassurance they need to sleep.
Change your perception
There have been times that I would dread going to bed, literally dread it. You know that feeling that you get at the end of a long day when you are so grateful to get into bed, sort of relief – I have rarely had that since becoming a parent.
I used to feel that everyone in the house was going to bed to recharge and my night was just getting started. It felt lonely and made me resentful of everyone who was getting a good sleep.
I knew nothing was going to change quickly so I had to change the way I felt about the situation. I began making a list of all the things I could do for myself, whilst awake in the night, such as put hand cream on, or enjoy a hot drink. I also began seeing it as precious cuddling time with my baby, and also, as productive time. I would often be my future friend by getting the breakfast things out, putting a wash on or ordering the food shop online.
Bin any feelings of inadequacy
Sleep deprivation can make you extra sensitive to outside criticism and hyper critical of yourself. You are not a bad parent if your child won’t sleep. Your child is not a naughty child if they wont sleep! Please remember that!
So often people say to us as parents, are they good for you? What they mean is, do they sleep well? Since when was sleep the deciding factor in whether someone was well behaved or not? Babies have no idea what is good or bad behaviour for goodness sake.
Wanting to be cuddled does not make them naughty.
Remember it’s not forever
When you are exhausted the nights feel so incredibly long. You are likely to feel tearful and frustrated and like you can’t go on. You can go on though, and you will and you will rinse and repeat multiple times over and over and over again.
The nights are long, yes, but the years are most certainly short and the resilience you accumulate in those sleep deprived years will prepare you for the hurdles that follow in parenthood and life in general.
This is a collaborative article.